BLOOMINGTON -- The calendar indicates Indiana's football season starts Sept. 1 against Indiana State, with preseason camp beginning Aug. 2.
Don't believe it.
The season starts now.
“We need these guys to understand that not only do they need to have a great conditioning summer, but they need to be better football players on Aug. 2 than April 14,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “When you're out of season, what do you do? What do you do with no pads and helmets to be a better player? We have a lot of young kids who need to film study, time on task, skill development. They as players have to do it. Great players do that.”
Sophomore cornerback Lawrence Barnett has gotten the message. The former Bishop Luers standout wrapped up a solid spring with a strong spring game performance that included, in one first-half stretch on Saturday, three straight pass deflections. He said he understands what needs to be done.
“We have to do a lot of speed work, a lot of lifting,” he said. “When we come together in the summer, we have to do our own thing without the coaches because they aren't allowed to be there. We've got to carry over spring chemistry to the summer, then go into fall camp with the same chemistry.
“And when the freshmen get here, we have to teach them the same thing in case they get thrown out there.”
As a two-year veteran, Barnett figures to do much of the player-driven defensive teaching.
“I'll do my best to lead the defense. We have to be a family and have that chemistry.”
Improved strength will help.
“Everybody is a lot stronger,” Barnett said. “Me and a lot of the DBs are benching 350 pounds now. It helps.”
That's part of Barnett's overall physical improvement that he hopes will translate into more on-field production. Last year he totaled 46 tackles, six pass deflections, one forced fumble and one fumble return for a touchdown.
“I feel a lot quicker, a lot faster. This winter (strength coach Mark Hill) did a good job of getting my feet right. He worked on my feet and speed all winter. It paid off. I'm breaking better on the ball. I'm squeezing off verticals (deep passes) better. I listen to a lot of (cornerback coach Brandon Shelby's) teaching. I feel a lot better than last year.”
The spring game didn't end the Hoosiers' responsibilities. They will work out until the semester ends in a couple of weeks. They'll get three weeks off in May, then return to campus at the start of June to begin their 7½-week summer sessions. Coaches have provided direction, but because of NCAA rules, can't coach or watch.
“It's voluntary,” Wilson said, “but you voluntarily choose to win and lose sometimes. You can't make the guys be here. They have to want to.
“We'll have more throwing this summer. We need to get stronger. The bigger you are, the stronger you are, the more physical you play. We talk about physical play and running better and tackling better and making more competitive plays. If you're not physically maturing, you won't do those things. The stronger you get, the more confident you get. We need a great off-season because we're a young team.”
A spring emphasis on physical play resulted in Saturday's hard-hitting game.
“The reason why we're hitting harder,” Barnett said, “is we've done a lot of live periods and a lot of hitting. Coaches have emphasized that a lot. When somebody knows his assignment and knows where he's supposed to be, there's a better chance for collisions. We're trying to get after it and play hard.”
A year in the defensive system has helped, Barnett added.
“Knowing what we're doing is a big part of it. Last year with a new defense, it was tough. We're still learning. We still have mistakes, but we're hitting harder and playing faster because we know a lot more. The new guys coming in will learn it faster because we know it a lot better.”
The goal is to minimize or eliminate the blown coverages that made Indiana the Big Ten's worst defense last season and contributed to the 1-11 record in Wilson's head-coaching debut.
“If you know where you're supposed to be at certain times, and know the defense,” Barnett said, “there are less errors out there.”